Still figuring it out.

I was just thinking about where I was a year ago and what I was doing, and how drastically a life can change in 12 months.  This time last year, I was still basking in the glow of my acceptance into the School of Nursing.  I was originally accepted into the Accelerated program, but it was about early January that I started to realize that I’m not cut out for the pressures that would surely accompany completing a full nursing curriculum in just over a year… I knew I wanted to take my time so that I could take everything in.  I was starting the process of evaluating exactly what it was that I wanted out of nursing school, and what I wanted to accomplish at Johns Hopkins in particular.  I wish I could say I figured it out long ago, but I’m finding that this process isn’t one that results in immediate, well-defined gratification.

Like just about everyone else who goes into nursing, I turned to this profession because I wanted to help people.  But “helping people” is pretty broad… what I struggle with the most is this: in what capacity do I want to help people?  And, since there are many, many possibilities, which roles do I focus on first?

When I first came to this school, I was 100% sure that I only wanted to work in public health.  Bedside nursing just wasn’t for me… I’d tolerate it as long as I had to in my clinicals, but there was no way that I would pursue that as a career.  Ahem.  As usual, whenever I’m 100% sure of something, I realize rather quickly that I’m never really 100% anything about anything.  In fact, I can sum up my entire first semester of nursing school as an exercise in breaking down expectations, collapsing certainties, and learning to open myself to learn and experience without judgment.  Nothing was what I imagined, and after struggling to accept that my expectations will not be met, I learned to begin letting go of them entirely.  True, I didn’t get as much hands-on experience as I hoped for during my first clinical, but I did learn important, possibly more esoteric, lessons.  Bedside nursing can be about so much more than skills and quick evaluations.  I learned that it can also be about presence, about just being with patients in the moment and connecting with them at their levels.  It’s about taking a few minutes to talk with a woman who, the day after she had an emergency colon-resection and now had to tolerate feedings with a nasogastric tube, didn’t even want to wash herself.  As a nursing student, I had the luxury of time, and just slowing down and listening while she told me about her frustrations and worries was enough to help her feel human again.  Just a little bit of empathy led to her allowing me to give her a bed bath.  It did so much more than I could imagine.  Who knew I’d find a bit of magic at the bedside?

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to learn here was that the school has an excellent reputation as a research institution and is affiliated with the best teaching hospital in the country.  Last semester, we were taught about the importance of evidence-based practice.  Everything we do as nurses should be linked in some way to research that serves as evidence that these nursing practices are effective.  I found myself wondering more and more about how this evidence is generated, how research and investigation begins and how it is ultimately applied to helping people.  I’m fortunate enough to be accepted into the Research Honors program, one of many unique opportunities offered by the SON.  This Spring, I’ll be working with an accomplished and respected faculty mentor and her team in order to carve out my own small project that will support their broader research as well as allow me an opportunity to get a sense of what nursing research is all about.  Hopefully, the project will culminate in a published article or paper of my own.

So here I am, at the end of the beginning, starting chapter 2 of 4 in my nursing school journey.  I’m still discovering possible roles, still actively defining the capacity in which I want to help people, and still figuring it out.  I just hope I have the good sense to pursue the opportunities that nursing school presents.

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